I’ve spent a lot of time in my career busting myths that tend to worsen people’s sleep. Here I’ll share some of the most common I hear (there are SO many!) and give you the actual facts you need to know.
Myth: You can always catch up on sleep
Fact: I find it easiest to use a money analogy here. Let’s say you’re a true “eight hour a nighter”. Now, assume you’re someone who doesn’t make time for sleep during the week, and regularly only gets six hours a night. That’s two hours less that your need on five nights a week…. Which equals a “sleep debt” of 10 hours in 5 nights.
When the weekend comes, you try and make up for that lost sleep – but the reality is it’s really hard to make up for 10 lost hours. Maybe you can "pay back” an extra two hours with weekend lie-ins. But you’re still left with a sleep debt of six hours by the end of the weekend. And so the debt grows. You don’t really notice it night to night, but the underlying issue of sleep loss is there.
Myth: Caffeine only impacts your ability to fall asleep.
Fact: While that’s true, it has also been shown that coffee impacts the ability to have consolidated sleep. It leads to slower time to REM, and reduced deep slow-wave sleep (the restorative, deep sleep that’s important for repairing the body and restoring energy). Plus, sleep that’s less consolidated due to caffeine has been shown to negatively impact learning, emotion regulation and problem-solving.
Myth: Hitting snooze gives me extra, important rest.
Fact: It might feel good in the moment to hit snooze button, but more isn’t necessarily better. You aren’t usually allowing enough time to complete a full sleep cycle, so instead, your body gets confused, wondering if it is actually going back to sleep or not, leading to feeling groggy when you get up. Getting up at varying times can also worsen falling asleep at night!
Myth: Alcohol will help me sleep.
Truth: Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but the quality won’t be great. It makes you have less REM sleep (this is when you process memories and emotions, like your brain’s filling cabinet), and you eventually need more and more to sleep, which is obviously not ideal. Plus it’s very dehydrating and can worsen snoring, leading to morning headaches. To prevent it impacting your sleep, avoid alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime.
Myth: You can train yourself over time to function on less sleep
Fact: You can’t fake wake. Faking peak performance on a regular basis is difficult without a baseline of sufficient sleep. Sure, we all have rough days here and there when coffee and naps (or coffee + naps!) are helpful, but they’re not a substitute for your baseline sleep need.
Myth: 8 hours of sleep every night is the magic number.
Fact: Eight hours is just easy to say – and it is simply the average between seven and nine! The majority of adults fall within the seven to nine hour range, with some people needing a little more or a slight bit less. Go by how you feel. If you’re struggling to get a sufficient amount of sleep, think about why. Is it an issue where you don’t make enough time to sleep, or do you suffer from chronic insomnia where you can’t sleep despite trying? Or, is there something else getting in the way of a good night’s sleep? Talk with your doctor if you can’t get more quality or quantity of sleep despite trying to make it a priority.
If you’re routinely sleepy and struggle to get out of bed, regardless of the above tips and enough time for a sleep routine, always talk with your doctor to rule out other issues.
This article is part of our 14 days to Soulful Sleep masterclass, your holistic guide to a better night’s sleep, developed with Dr. Shelby Harris. For expert tips on how to improve your sleep, or to start the full plan, with daily videos, advice and challenges revealing the small habits that make a big difference for sleep, click here.